Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 5thDownFantasy readers! I hope you all had a great holiday filled with family, fun and fantasy gold. However, as the fantasy season comes to an end for 2018 we still have plenty of real-world football to dig into. So, without further delay, let’s check out some of the standout stars of Week 16:
ANTONIO BROWN (Pittsburgh Steelers)
True superstars have a knack for putting in their best efforts at exactly the right moment. Antonio Brown proved once again just how special he truly is on Sunday against the Saints.
In a battle for the Steelers’ playoff lives Brown was untouchable, scorching the Saints secondary (14 Rec/185 Yds/2 TDs) and almost having a third score late in the contest. While history will remember this game as a crushing loss for Pittsburgh, it will also remember Brown’s efforts in support of victory, as he set a new franchise single season touchdown record (15 TDs).
Despite yearly reports claiming that he’s due to regress, AB consistently shows exactly why he’s known as the best receiver in the NFL. In terms of the Steelers franchise history Brown trails only Hines Ward in career receiving yards (12,083) and TDs (85) in black and yellow. At Brown’s current marks (11,207 yards/74 TDs) it wouldn’t be shocking if we saw him become the most statistically prolific WR in franchise history by the end of the 2019 season. He’s just that good.
AARON RODGERS (Green Bay Packers)
It’s safe to say there’s no hard feelings in Green Bay when it comes to the dismissal of Mike McCarthy at this point. After scoring just 34 points combined in Weeks 12 and 13 McCarthy was shown the door, and the Pack responded the next week by scoring 34 points in one contest against the Falcons. The bad blood between Aaron Rodgers and his former head coach was both well established and often discussed, and with McCarthy out of the picture we’re seeing Rodgers really open this offense up towards the end of the year.
Green Bay may not have anything to play for, but Rodgers’ winning mindset and ability to bring out the best in those around him were on full display on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Against a young, underrated Jets secondary, Rodgers put in his best performance of the year, tearing through their ranks (474 total yards/2 pass TDs/2 rush TDs). Rodgers simply refused to be stopped as Green Bay fought from underneath and completed an overtime comeback that felt like it came straight out of the Rodgers playbook of a few years back.
Green Bay has a tall task ahead of it this offseason as they search for a new head coach. They need to find someone that can work with Rodgers and get this team back on track, because when this team is humming on all cylinders they’re able to beat anyone in the league with No. 12 under center.
ZACH ERTZ (Philadelphia Eagles)
Another week has come and gone, and the Super Bowl champs refuse to die! In yet another must-win contest the Eagles passed all over the Houston secondary and kicked their way to (8-7) in dramatic, last-second fashion.
They did all of this to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they also set multiple franchise/league records in the process. Zach Ertz caught his 113th reception of the 2018 campaign on Sunday, eclipsing Jason Witten’s 2012 mark of (110). That was just the tip of the iceberg for Philly’s number one passing option though, as he went on to catch 12 balls for 110 Yards and 2 TD’s on the day.
There’s no understating the importance of Ertz in the Eagles’ offense, whether it’s Carson Wentz or Nick Foles under center, No. 86 is locked in as the top option in the passing attack. His performance Sunday marked the 5th time Ertz has had double digit receptions in a game this season and both scores proved vital to keeping the Eagles season alive. With the fantasy season all but over and the real-world playoffs about to start you better believe that Ertz and company will be gunning for that final Wild Card spot (with some help from the Bears).
NICK FOLES (Philadelphia Eagles)
We can’t discuss the magic surrounding the Eagles’ late-season playoff push without bringing up Old Saint Nick himself. With Wentz sidelined due to back issues and the season hanging on by the thinnest of threads, Foles took up his spot under center once again. The results have been nothing short of magical. In the 2 games that he’s started the Eagles are undefeated, he’s thrown for roughly 700 yards, has a TD/INT ratio of 4/2 and Philly has scored 30+ points in both games. For reference, the Eagles had only scored 30 or more points once all season up until this point.
Foles’ effect on the Eagles offense is simple, he’s a pure pocket passer that loves to go downfield and the champs have exactly the kind of receiving core that can benefit from that approach. We talked about Ertz etching his name into the NFL record books, but Foles made a little history of his own on Sunday. His 471 passing yards eclipsed Donovan McNabb to make Foles the Eagles single game passing yard leader in franchise history.
With his tenure in the City of Brotherly Love likely coming to an end after this year, Foles is keeping things simple and working for what’s currently in front of him. What’s in front of him is the NFL playoffs, and he has the eyes, hearts and minds of Philadelphia behind him in hopes of another historic run.
DAMIEN WILLIAMS (Kansas City Chiefs)
In the absence of Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware the Chiefs may have found a diamond in the rough. Damien Williams has been excellent for Kansas City over the past three weeks and is showing some of the qualities that made Hunt so dangerous in this offense. The main thing that jumps off the screen instantly about Williams is his versatility in the Chiefs passing game. In the three games that he’s started in the backfield (Weeks 14/15/16) Williams has been targeted 18 times and caught 17 of those opportunities, giving him a catch rate of 95%. That alone would be impressive enough, but he’s also scored twice off of those receptions and paired that production with an equally impressive ground game.
In a unit teeming with potential and a bonified MVP frontrunner under center the Chiefs offense has plenty of mouths to feed. Because of this Williams hasn’t had the largest work load in the world from a rushing standpoint, but that’s exactly what makes his production so much more impressive. Over the past 3 weeks Williams has carried the ball 31 times combined for 166 yards and 3 TDs. Those 3 scores matched with his work in the receiving game give him 5 touchdowns in just three weeks. He’s shown that he can score from the goal line or just as easily take a screen pass to the house from 40 yards out. With the Chiefs likely auditioning RBs to be their new franchise standard Williams is making a strong case for himself to be on the squad in 2019.
C.J. ANDERSON (Los Angeles Rams)
C.J. Anderson’s had a particularly odd past few seasons in the NFL. Just a few years back he was being anointed as the Broncos running back of the future. His electric 10 touchdown stretch of dominance at the backend of the 2014 season had fantasy owners and football analysts alike shaking their heads in disbelief. He was being drafted in the Top 10 picks of fantasy drafts nationwide and the future for him in Mile High seemed as close to a lock as humanly possible.
But you know what they say, life is funny sometimes. Anderson was never able to match the production of his breakout 2014 season and found himself swimming in the waters of free agency coming into 2018. He was rostered by the Panthers as a stop-gap option behind Christian McCaffrey for most of the year but was later dropped and scooped up by a playoff-bound Rams team that needed help in a bad way.
With All-Pro RB Todd Gurley questionable to play, the Rams brought Anderson in, quickly liked what they saw and went on to feed him a full on “Gurley-sized” workload in Week 16, and to great effect. Anderson carried the ball 20 times against a listless Arizona defense and battered them for 167 yards and a touchdown in a dominant win that LA desperately needed. With Gurley due back in the lineup soon and the playoffs nearing it’s fair to say that this was Anderson’s moment in the sun, but it was a particularly impressive one.
KYLE RUDOLPH (Minnesota Vikings)
Jumping from one surprising performance to another we find ourselves taking a trip to Minneapolis. Kyle Rudolph hasn’t had a ton to brag about this season, on the year he’s only scored 4 touchdowns. The big tight end hasn’t found much chemistry to speak of with new franchise QB Kirk Cousins, but they found something special this past Sunday for sure.
Rudolph finished the year strong in Week 16 with his best performance of the season, crushing the Lions secondary for (9 Rec/122 Yds/2 TDs). The performance itself is impressive enough at face value, but when you dig a little deeper into Rudolph’s season it becomes even more so. In the month leading up to Week 16 (a four-game span) Rudolph caught 15 balls for a combined 131 yards and no touchdowns.
In short, Rudolph’s Week 16 performance outpaced his production from an entire month of the 2018 season. That’s madness. That’s also the life of a tight end in the NFL in most cases. The Zach Ertz/Travis Kelce’s of the world are outliers who command legitimate action in their team’s offensive plans. In the case of Rudolph, he shined brightest when he needed to, including a signature momentum-swinging catch on a Hail Mary from Cousins to end the first half. He may not be a fantasy stud, and he may not be the top option in his offense, but when Rudolph’s number was called on Sunday he balled out to the best of his ability.
RUSSELL WILSON (Seattle Seahawks)
About a month back I wrote about Russell Wilson’s dark horse candidacy for league MVP. Since the writing of that article the Seahawks have gone 4-1, beaten the Chiefs and secured the first wild card spot in the NFC playoffs. Wilson isn’t just a dark horse anymore, he should be a legitimate Top 5 favorite after Week 16. Going into Sunday Night Football the 8-6 Seahawks were a battle-hardened team with the best rushing offense in the league, a stout young defense headed by Bobby Wagner and Wilson at the helm.
Yet, even with all of these things going for them they were supreme underdogs in their own house against the Kansas City Chiefs and MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes. Wilson was the veteran, bringing his team to the dance, and Mahomes was the presumptive new superstar of the leagues future. On that night Wilson won, and he did it by showing the league (and Mahomes) exactly how good he can be. Wilson tossed 3 Touchdowns and 271 yards through the air while adding 57 more yards on the ground for good measure in one of the defining performances of the 2018 season. This game showed off the Seahawks ability to adapt and attack an opponent in multiple ways, and it exposed the Kansas City defense as a legitimate cause for concern.
To further state the case for Wilson you just have to look at the stats:
Russell Wilson on the year:
3,296 Passing Yards
Those numbers give Wilson more touchdowns on the year than Drew Brees (32) and Philip Rivers (31), and 5 less interceptions than Mahomes (11). What’s even more revealing is how Wilson’s played since Seattle’s Week 10 loss to the Rams. They were beaten and immediately counted out after that loss, and all Wilson’s done since then is guide them to where they currently stand.
Since Week 10’s loss to the LA Rams:
Team Record: 5-1
Wilson is 22-9 in December in his career because he has ice water in his veins. He’s somehow overlooked every year until the last month despite being a name brand superstar in his own right. His greatness in crunch time has been well established, and with the weapons Seattle has on both sides of the ball they should be a feared Wild Card team for the division leaders of the NFC. DangerRuss deserves to be on the MVP ballot.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 16:
Aaron Donald is on pace for a historic season in more ways than one.
The 2018 Los Angeles Rams are built like a superhero group. With names like Gurley/Cooks/Goff/Suh/Peters and Talib on the roster, it was hardly a shock when most pundits believed that LA would be Super Bowl favorites this season. But all of those names pale in comparison to the beast at the heart of this team’s defensive line.
Aaron Donald is not only the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he’s the single most dominant player in the NFL without question. His a 6’1, 280-pound wrecking ball of humanity with the strength and speed of a roaring locomotive. He’s also on his way to potentially changing NFL history forever in Week 17.
Donald currently sits at 19.5 sacks on the year, making him the most prolific defensive tackle the NFL has ever seen in a single season. That 19.5 number marks the second year in a row that Donald’s had double-digit sacks (11 sacks in 2017), and that 19.5 puts him just 4 sacks shy of Michael Strahan’s NFL single season record of 23. To put that into perspective, Donald plays a position on the interior of the defensive line that’s designed to plug gaps and push the offensive line backward to make room for pressure from the edge rushers. When most teams draw up plans and run drills for their defensive tackles they’re not planning on these big guys getting sacks or hitting the quarterback often, but in the case of guys like Donald and Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles, there are exceptions to the rule.
Donald’s already made history at his position, but there’s also a large, vocal contingent of fans around the league that want him to be the 2018 Most Valuable Player. The last time a defensive player got this much ground swell support for that award was J.J. Watt in 2014. The scary thing is: Donald’s been even better than Watt was that year.
Here are the numbers for Donald and Watt compared:
Watt (2014): 20.5 Sacks/78 Tackles/4 Forced Fumbles/TD
Donald (2018): 19.5 Sacks/92 Tackles/4 Forced Fumbles
Donald is on pace to eclipse Watt’s sack total this week from a position that isn’t designed to be that dominant at that particular statistic. He has 14 more tackles on the year than Watt had and matches J.J. with 4 fumbles a piece. Donald is the physical embodiment of the phrase “game breaker” and by the league’s definition he’s a more than believable MVP candidate in 2018. The only problem that he faces is the leagues long-standing (somewhat understandable) bias towards the quarterback position for the MVP award.
In the long history of the NFL there have only been two defensive players to ever win the Most Valuable Player award: Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986). In the case of Taylor, he was a national phenomenon playing linebacker for the New York Giants. LT was a brand that was as good as gold and the league hopped on that brand recognition to award him for an incredible year. The better comparison for Donald’s current position is Page, who also played defensive tackle (for the Minnesota Vikings). Page’s MVP win happened so long ago that Pro Football Reference doesn’t even have full records of his statistics from that season (sacks weren’t even a measured stat until 1982).
So, this is where Aaron Donald stands heading into Week 17. He stands 6’1, 280 pounds, and his accolades read:
5x Pro Bowler
2014 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year
2017 AP Defensive Player of the Year
With just 2 sacks he can pass Watt’s 2014 MVP season, and with 4 he can set a new NFL record by passing Strahan. With one week left in the 2018 season he now has his chance to dance with destiny under the bright Hollywood lights, and the big man’s got his dancing shoes on.